LANSING. (AP) – A check of absentee ballots shows just as many Republicans as Democrats are crossing over to vote in the other party’s primary, even though only a handful of candidates are on the Democratic ballot, according to an East Lansing political consultant.
Mark Grebner, a Democrat who compiles voter lists and has an eye for finding voting patterns among the data, discerned the crossover numbers after examining the names of voters who have submitted 220,000 absentee ballot applications before Tuesday’s presidential primary.
Grebner, who heads Practical Political Consulting, said he has found that about 15 percent of the absentee voters in each party have chosen the other party’s ballot.
He said it’s not surprising Democrats would make the switch since the Democratic field includes only one serious contender: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Barack Obama and John Edwards have taken their names off the ballot because Michigan broke party rules by moving up its primary.
The GOP race, however, is expected to be a hotly fought contest between native Michiganian Mitt Romney, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Grebner said the only reason that explains why likely Republican absentee voters have chosen to vote in the truncated Democratic election is because they’re disappointed with their party.
“There is a noticeable tendency by people who have been previously identified as Republicans to go walk out of their party,” he said. “There shouldn’t be any crossover at all because they’ve got an interesting primary and we’ve got a stupid one.”
A spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party was skeptical that Republican voters were choosing Democratic ballots.
“That’s just a bunch of bunk,” Bill Nowling said. “They keep trying to spin that.”
Instead, Nowling said, people identified by Grebner as crossing sides are likely to be independents. In primaries, it’s hard to get Republicans or Democrats to switch unless there is a concerted effort – which Nowling said there hasn’t been.
In 2000, underdog John McCain beat eventual nominee George W. Bush partly because Democrats were encouraged to cross over to vote in the GOP primary as a way to punish then-Gov. John Engler, a Bush backer. Democrats held their presidential caucus on a different day.
This year’s primary requires voters to let clerks record whether they take a Republican or Democratic ballot. No public record of the vote is kept, but the voters’ names and the information on which ballot they took will be given to the state Republican and Democratic parties after the election.
To reach his conclusion, Grebner looked at a list of absentee ballot applications he got last week after filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the state elections bureau. He compared those voters to lists he has compiled identifying whether they’re likely to be a Republican or a Democrat, based on their past voting patterns.
He acknowledged that the breakdown of crossover voters at the polls Tuesday could be different from absentee patterns he’s seen so far, but his experience has been that they’re similar. He also said the list he got from the state wasn’t complete because not all clerks use a centralized system for tracking absentee ballots.
Grebner said he has heard from election clerks who are surprised so many people are asking for Democratic ballots, even though Obama and Edwards aren’t participating. Those clerks also are seeing Democratic absentee ballots being requested by people they think are Republicans, he said.
“There’s a little bit of a shift going on in Michigan,” Grebner said. “I’m not telling you it’s a tidal wave.”
Lansing Clerk Chris Swope said Thursday that of 3,400 absentee ballots requested so far, 1,200 were for the Republican race. That’s generally consistent with the city’s political makeup because it’s more Democratic, he said.